Detroit Institute of Music Education closes amid university dispute

The Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME) announced this week it is closing, six years after launching an unconventional, innovative curriculum focused on contemporary music.
In a letter emailed Monday to students, DIME executives announced the immediate closure of the school’s programs in Detroit and Colorado, citing the fracturing of a partnership with Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) that began in 2015.
That arrangement formally accredited the DIME curriculum, allowing students to receive four-year bachelor’s degrees under the MSU Denver banner and pursue financial aid as needed.
Kevin Nixon and Sarah Clayman, the English husband-wife team who opened DIME in 2014 after operating a network of similar music colleges in the U.K., said in a statement that they “have not given up hope that we can reinvent DIME in Detroit, and work with other local organizations to continue music education in the city we have lived in for the past six years and have grown to love.”
Speaking Wednesday to the Free Press, Nixon said that could plausibly include a new partnership with a Detroit-area university.
“We can fix this problem,” he said.
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This week’s announcement followed a nine-week legal scramble, complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, to give DIME “a managed exit” from its MSU Denver deal, Nixon said, including a teach-out arrangement for existing students.
An MSU Denver executive, meanwhile, said missed enrollment targets and low tuition revenue prompted the Colorado university to end the partnership.
Nixon and Clayman opened DIME in Detroit’s Capitol Park in 2014 amid the downtown Detroit revival. Unlike much traditional music training, instruction was tailored to students with an interest in hip-hop, R&B, rock and other modern music styles.
The school also offered a business track for students seeking careers in the music industry.
In April, DIME was cited for a second consecutive year on Billboard magazine’s Top Music Business Schools list.
George Clinton, Alessia Cara and Who manager Bill Curbishley were among the figures who participated in master classes at DIME’s Detroit site — a stylish space at the corner of Griswold and Grand River in a building owned by Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock group.
The school forged its MSU Denver partnership in 2015, and the arrangement was celebrated at the time by administrators at both schools.
“We’re excited about being part of the vitality of the music scene in Detroit and all the history there,” an MSU Denver vice president told the Free Press.
As for existing students, an MSU Denver official told the Free Press that the university “recognizes our obligation to our students at both the Denver and Detroit locations, and is reaching out to students now to discuss their academic future — whether with MSU Denver or other options.”
The two sides offered divergent interpretations of what went wrong in the months leading up to this week’s closings.
Nixon pointed in part to turnover in the MSU Denver leadership since the partnership was signed in 2015, including the departure of a university president and vice president whose enthusiastic backing had sealed the deal with DIME. He also cited ongoing tensions with the head of MSU Denver’s music department.
DIME students, faculty and executives received an email from MSU Denver on March 11 announcing that the university was ending the partnership, Nixon said. An hour later, a follow-up email came from the chair of the music department inviting students to remain with MSU Denver — but minus the DIME curriculum.
With the coronavirus pandemic taking center stage in March, “the timing was brutal,” Nixon said.
“You could feel that steel blade coming through DIME in Detroit,” he said.
In a statement provided to the Free Press, MSU Denver Chief Operating Officer Larry Sampler said “financial prospects for the partnership going forward were impossibly dire.”
Enrollment at the Detroit and Denver sites totaled 168 students as of last summer, Sampler said —  “less than half the 349 students required for the partnership to break even.” Tuition revenue was less than $2 million, he said, with expenses totaling $4 million between the two campuses.
“Per projections agreed by both MSU Denver and DIME, these numbers were not expected to improve significantly in the coming years,” Sampler said.
Sampler said MSU Denver notified DIME on March 11 it would terminate the partnership deal in 365 days, as called for by their agreement.
“This was not a decision taken lightly or celebrated,” he said. “In subsequent discussions, the DIME leadership team made the decision to terminate immediately, effective (Monday).”
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Nixon and Clayman said MSU Denver rejected their proposal to teach out DIME’s remaining students together, “to protect the current students” enrolled in the school’s bachelor’s degree programs in commercial songwriting, commercial music performance and music industry studies.
MSU Denver’s own curriculum is “that of a standard classical music department,” they said.
“DIME’s students have been left with uncertainty in both cities on how they will continue with their modern music degrees,” Nixon and Clayman wrote.
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